News & Views - The right to die
Sean Davison is a well-spoken, civilised South African, a respected academic – and a very controversial man.
In 2006, Prof Davison travelled to New Zealand to be with his terminally ill mother. There he helped her to take a morphine overdose, which killed her.
As a consequence, he was arrested for the attempted murder of his mother and went on trial in the high court. Prof Davidson was offered a lesser charge of assisted suicide and pleaded guilty. He was ordered to serve five months under house arrest in Dunedin. This trial ignited debate on assisted death in both South Africa and New Zealand.
Last year he was present when his friend Anrich Burger, an Internet health columnist known as CyberDoc, took his own life in a Cape Town hotel.
Burger became a quadriplegic after a car crash in Botswana in 2005.
In 2011, while awaiting trial, he founded DignitySA, an organisation which seeks to change the law in South Africa to allow for assisted dying.
He is still a board member of DignitySA and also serves on the board of directors of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies.
“Our organisation believes the current law does not reflect the mood of the country. Several opinion polls have indicated overwhelming support for a law change to allow for assisted dying in certain circumstances,” says Prof Davison.
On 16 July 2014, for example, a News24 poll revealed that 78% of respondents (13,723 votes) supported assisted dying, while 22% opposed it (3838 votes).
The main objections to changing the law have come from religious groups.
“However this is not a religious issue; it is about compassion and kindness, and ultimately about human rights."
“Dr Anrich Burger was a strong supporter of DignitySA. We often spoke about how the religious argument was an obstacle to getting the law changed. He said he resented his rights being denied, and his views discounted, because of someone else’s faith,” Davison told Rolling Inspiration.
Prof Davison stresses that the decision of voluntary euthanasia is not one to be taken lightly.
“What makes a life worth living is no small question, or indeed, if the point comes where death is preferable. The answer should be based on our own individual minds, but, right now, this isn’t respected by the law,” he says.
“Most quadriplegics make the most of their limited mobility and find a lot of enjoyment in life."
"My friend Dr Anrich Burger, on the other hand, was suffering terribly and was desperate to die. We believe it’s a fundamental human right to be allowed to die with dignity and to have autonomy over our own bodies. Those rights are enshrined within our Constitution. In some cases to achieve such a death requires assistance from another person.”
“An able-bodied person at least has the option of ending their life without assistance; a quadriplegic does not. I don’t see why a quadriplegic should be deprived something that is legally available to an able bodied person (suicide). The law discriminates against quadriplegics because of their disabilities. They may be a minority group but that doesn’t mean their wishes should be ignored.”
According to Prof Davison, Dignity SA is thriving.
“We have a vibrant web page, Twitter account, and Facebook profile. We only started signing up members in the last year and welcome new members. Membership details are available on our website,” he says.
In 2009 Sean Davison published a book Before We Say Goodbye that described the three months he spent with his mother before she died.